I wrote awhile ago that I had recently rediscovered the joys of a good massage. You don’t go for the comfort factor, most massages in China are the pressure-point style ones and must be endured, but I find that afterwards it feels really, really good.
I don’t go that often, maybe once every 6 weeks or so, and I haven’t found a good local place yet. So today I decided to try a new place located right outside my school. I asked around, to students and friends, and no one had been there. But the spa had the fancy pictures of woman surrounded by flowers and the place looked clean, so I tried it out.
I walked in, no one there, and walked down the hallways saying, “you ren ma?” Anyone there? A woman came out of a really warm, cozy room with two massage tables, ushered me in and asked what I wanted. I said I wanted a massage. “Body or feet?”
“Body,” I said.
She said it would be 50rmb ($8) for 45 minutes and I agree. She said some other things I didn’t really understand and I just kinda nodded and grunted in the affirmative.
Then she tells me to take off my shirt. Usually, massages are done over your clothes, but I saw her getting some oil ready and I realized I had signed on for an oil massage. Okay, no problem (though it was a tad awkward to get undressed in front of the two women who were just kinda staring at me. “Do you have a gown? I asked. “No,” was her quick reply.)
So I lay down and at first it’s normal. I mean, this woman was hurting me for sure, really digging into my back muscles, but like I said, massages in China are meant to be endured. There was a few times, especially when she was going to town on my neck, pulling it and pushing on it in horrible ways, that I almost told her to stop, or lighten up, but she’s the expert and my muscles were pretty sore so I thought it would help me in the end.
And then it all goes to hell. She gets some tool (I can’t see it because I’m lying face down) and just goes at it. I tried to handle it, “this is good for me, this is good for me,” was running through my head, but after about 30 seconds I couldn’t.
“Bu shufu!” I said. Not comfortable!
“Does it hurt?” she asked.
“Yeah it freakin hurts, you sadist!” is what I wanted to yell at her but instead I replied “Yeah, hurts a lot.”
Then she says some stuff which I really don’t get but her message is clear: It’s supposed to hurt. I realize that this is one of those Traditional Chinese methods. Turns out it was Gua Sha, or back scraping a traditional chinese method for purifying the body, releasing toxins and lowering inflammation. It’s especially useful when you have a fever, or some pain in your muscles. The basic idea is that it removes and blocks in your muscles and gets the blood flowing again. It can relieve pain and heal problems.
But OH MY GOD does it hurt. I thought that she was actually drawing blood. She was not at all delicate with it and even when I complained she didn’t slow down or take it easy at all.
“Don’t take a shower today,” she told me on my way out. I walk home, my entire back on fire, and when I get back and take off my coat, it’s hard for me to move my arms. Felt like I had been lifting weights for the past hour. I went into the bathroom and pull up my shirt to reveal the center of my back completely red. Not bruised red, but like, bleeding under the skin. The marks are a sign of Gua Sha done right. If you don’t have a problem area allegedly the discoloration won’t happen. It will only appear when toxins were released. In America this tradition has sometimes been mistaken for child abuse because of the marks.
I felt woozy, and weak and I laid down and fell asleep for an hour and a half afterwards. I can’t lie in my back, too painful, and even leaning back in my chair hurts.
A few of my Chinese friends have assured me that it is good for me. But my reply was, “good or bad, I’m sure as hell never doing that again.” This is one Chinese tradition I’m going to skip in the future.